Many people think of Emily Dickinson as a typical Victorian spinster with a high lace collar and a domestic perspective. But as community members will learn on Thursday, that is not the truth.
“In actuality, this was a woman who pushed against traditional female points of view,” said Charles Alexander, UHV poet and designer in residence. “She wanted to figure things out for herself, and that was reflected in her poetry before it was edited to suit contemporary tastes in early publications.”
On Thursday, Alexander will team up with Saba Razvi, a UHV assistant professor of English and creative writing and director of the English program, to host a reading of Dickinson’s poetry as it was originally written. The free UHV Downtown Arts Series event will begin at 7 p.m. in the UHV Center for the Arts, 204 N. Main St.
“The Downtown Arts Series has created a welcoming, open dialogue about all manner of arts and literature in the community,” said Jeffrey Di Leo, dean of the UHV School of Arts & Sciences. “This presentation by the university’s two poetry faculty members is a wonderful opportunity for people to learn about one of America’s most famous poets and explore different perspectives.”
Dickinson was a prolific poet, but she rarely published any of her work, Alexander said. After her death in 1886, her family discovered she had almost two thousand unpublished poems. When these works were first published, they were edited into more domesticated versions.
The first attempts to present her poetry with minimal editing did not emerge until 1955. Since then, editions have been released that try to show her work as she wrote it, including her own notations, edits and alternate word choices. Some books even include scans of her original manuscripts. Because of this, Dickinson became a feminist hero in the 1970s during an explosion of literature written by women, Alexander said.
“What people found when these unedited versions were released is that her language is richly powerful,” Alexander said. “She was a woman who lived on the edge of the wilderness, knew how to work a flintlock rifle, and as a young woman traipsed through the woods collecting samples. You can’t domesticate this woman.”
As Alexander and Razvi read Dickinson’s work on Thursday, they want to engage attendees in a discussion about the poetry and its impact on modern poetry and society, in addition to how it affects them personally. The event will be a welcoming place for those who know nothing about Dickinson’s poetry and longtime fans and experts. People are invited to connect and share their ideas.
“Poetry is a form of literature that has healing properties,” Alexander said. “Our society could use that this summer.”